World War II was over, America was ready to celebrate, and the city of Philadelphia was certainly no exception. Beginning in 1946, the Phillies introduced one of the most colorful and striking home/road uniform combinations of the post-war era. No need to take my word for it, consider what the 18 April 1946 edition of The Sporting News had to say. In an article titled “Phillies are National League Beau Brummel’s”, it was said that the 1946 Phillies will be sporting the “snappiest uniforms”, and they were manufactured with new post-war synthetic fabrics for the jersey, coming in at about 4oz per yard. The pants however, continued to me made with a heavier 6oz fabric. This information on fabric weight is consistent with a period Wilson fabric sample catalog I have in my reference library that shows this fabric to be a blend of 75% wool and 25% nylon. The catalog also makes note that the fabric weight for these top of the line major league quality fabrics (A5550 uniforms, product code WMX) is 4 1/2oz for the jerseys and 6oz for the pants. Something light and colorful… just what the nation needed in 1946.
The Sporting News article on the 1946 Phillies uniforms also offers invaluable information with respect to contemporary uniform costs, which they place at approximately $150 per player. This $150 price tag is described as an all-inclusive cost for uniforms, caps, pants, belts, socks, and undershirts. The jackets, described as being “blue and red wool with calfskin sleeves” were said to run about $45 a copy. Assuming the jacket as being a separate cost, this brings the 1946 grand total to $195 per player. So what did $195 look like in 1946? Consider:
Federal Minimum Wage: 40 cents per hour
Gasoline: 21 cents a gallon
New Car: $1,400
Average Annual Salary: $3,150
Major League Minimum Salary: $5,000
Highest Major League Salary: $55,000 (Hank Greenberg)
Outfitting the Phillies in 1946 was not a cheap proposition, but it appears this was money worth spent. According to John P. Rossi in his book “ The Whole New Game: Off the Field Changes in Baseball, 1946-1960,” the 1946 Phillies broke the one million mark in fan attendance for the first time in team history. Rossi also points to 1946 as tipping point in fan loyalty in Philadelphia away from the Athletics and to the Phillies. This is an important distinction, because since the Phillies abandoned the Baker Bowl midway through the 1938 season, both the Phillies and the Athletics shared Shibe Park as their home field. Might these new colorful uniforms have been part of the attraction in 1946? When you compare them to what Connie Mack’s boys were wearing, the edge decidedly goes to the more colorful Phillies.
What I have always found interesting is that the Phillies came to this patriotic color scheme after WW II and at a time when other teams were actually transitioning away from it. In 1947 the New York Giants abandoned the tri-color in favor of a return to black and orange. The 1947 Pittsburgh Pirates likewise moved away from the red, white, and blue uniforms they had been sporting throughout the bulk of the war years. Over in the American League, the White Sox returned to a more conventional white/grey/black combination in 1949. 1947 also marked the last time teams sported the patriotic “Stars and Stripes” patch, with the lone holdout still wearing them in 1947 being the Washington Nationals. Equally interesting is this was a time when color photography was becoming more common place.
Getting back to this gorgeous Phillies garb, this general style of home and road uniforms was worn from 1946-1949. The first versions in 1946, featured a wide band of soutache (flat decorative braid) around the collar area, but it did not close at the neck line. This was changed in 1947 with the soutache wrapping the front of the neck area. Additionally, these uniforms began to feature an oversized rear numeral, which became a staple of Phillies uniforms for years to come. With so much to like about these garments, you would think they would be a must for any collection of vintage 20th century major league uniforms. That might be easier said than done.
Consider if you will a team order of thirty-five (players, coaches, and extras) for two home and two road uniforms. This gives you a possible population of one hundred-forty home and road uniforms on an annual basis. Multiple this annual inventory number by the number of years of the general style (4) and you get five hundred and sixty uniforms. Even assuming an abysmal 5% survival rate, we would expect to have some twenty-three examples remaining today in the hobby. While I am sure there are some of these uniforms that have survived, but have never been offered publicly, the market appears to have yielded precious few examples over the decades. These have included:
*1947 Home; Wilson: Emil Verban (MEARS Museum Collection)
*1947-1949 Road: Wilson: Schoolboy Rowe (pants year tagged 1949) (MEARS Museum Collection)
*1948 Home; Wilson: Richie Ashburn (jersey and pants; year tagged 1948)
*1948 Road: Wilson: Johnny Blatnick (year tagged 1948)
*1949 Road: Wilson: George Earnshaw (year tagged 1949)
Even if you double this population to account for uniforms in collections that have not been recorded as public auction sales, this would leave us with a scant ten (10) uniforms or a survival rate of just under 2%. Typically the hobby/industry defines a “rare style” by the number of years it might have been worn, with the metric being maybe year or two. In this case even with a four season span (1946-1949), I think it’s fair to extend this title of “rare style” to these 1946-1949 Phillies uniforms because of their particularly low apparent survival rate.
My MEARS Museum baseball uniform reference library is largely a functional collection that provides exemplars to assist in evaluations and comparative analysis. Given how few of these 1946-1949 Phillies uniforms have survived, the likelihood that I would need one to evaluate another is slim. That being said, part of any museum effort should also include efforts to obtain and preserve significant and meaningful artifacts. During the time that the Phillies donned these uniforms at home and on the road, the National Pastime had never been more popular as indicated by reported attendance figures.
Total Major League Attendance by Year
*After 1951, attendance would continue to decline and would not surpass highs of the period until 1962.
As such, when these uniforms were being worn by the Phillies, they were seen fans in unprecedented numbers. Not so today, because their limited surviving numbers dictates that only select few fortunate current fans/collectors have probably ever had a chance a 1946-1949 Phillies uniforms in person. Being able to display, or at times loan artifacts like these for display is as equally important to MEARS as having access to them for reference purposes. Of the many things I enjoy and respect about my relationship with MEARS, this ranks high on that list.
Legendary American fashion designer Marc Jacob’s once said that “clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them.” These 1946-1949 Phillies uniforms were certainly lived in by players and in places that have long since passed. Being able to see and hold them provides me a rare and special opportunity to be transported back in time some seventy years to Shibe Park and Forbes Field… to the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field… and to Sportsman Park or Crosley Field. As I look at these colorful and rare artifacts, I can’t help but think… Them’s Some Mighty Pretty Little Phillies. I hope you think so too.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.